Starbucks Gets Skinny – Are You Offended?

January 15, 2008 at 1:55 am 3 comments

Like most of us, Starbucks has made a resolution to get healthier in 2008. The ubiquitous java joints are now offering “skinny” lattes and mochas to make it easier for calorie-counting coffee lovers to enjoy their daily dose of caffeine without breaking their diets.

The “skinny” platform, as it’s commonly referred to, is a nonfat latte made with sugar-free syrup. The sugar-free syrups come in a range of flavors: Vanilla, Hazelnut, Caramel, Cinnamon Dolce, and most recently Mocha. A tall “skinny” latte weighs in at 90 calories, while a regular one is 220 calories. To calculate the calories in your favorite beverage, use the nutrition tool on their site.

I am delighted by the launch of the “skinny” platform. It saves me lots of words when I order a drink at Starbucks, and I know I’ll get exactly what I ask for. There’ve been occasions when I’ve requested sugar-free sryup, and I’ve gotten the regular stuff. There’ve also been occasions when I’ve asked for no whipped cream, and there’s been a big ol’ pile of it on my drink that I then have to scoop into the trash. I watch my calories very carefully, so these mishaps make me slightly anxious. Knowing that all I have to say is “skinny” is a huge relief.

Starbucks created the “skinny” platform to support their customers’ desires to have healthier options. Interesting, then, that one of their own employees feels that new platform may actually alienate customers?

According to a recent post on Starbucks Gossip, an unnamed barista is very concerned about this new platform. The rebel barista, who only tells us that she’s based in a New York Starbucks franchise, lays out five criticisms for the new platform.

  1. Changing the drink calling/marking method will cause confusion for the employees.
  2. It’s already challenging for customers to order drinks at Starbucks.
  3. The “skinny” description is politically incorrect.
  4. The description could be considered a form of size discrimination, which could lead to lawsuits.
  5. The description will have a negative effect on self-esteem.

Criticism #3 fascinates me the most, with #4 and #5 coming in a close second and third.

3) It is politically incorrect. Should we start calling drinks with 2% or whole milk and regular syrups “Fat” or “Obese?” Consider what customers on line waiting for their turn to order their drink will think if they hear the drink before them being called out as “Skinny.” It leaves the door open for the next person on line to be offended. Additionally, the word “skinny” itself can have many different interpretations, not all of which are positive. In today’s society, the term “skinny” often refers to a person who is considered TOO thin or unhealthy looking. People will not want to order a drink with a name that they associate with an unhealthy appearance.

Yowsa! I’m amazed at this concern. First of all, I can’t imagine someone being offended that the person in front of them ordered a low-calorie, low-fat drink. Was I offending anyone when I ordered “a tall, sugar-free Cinnamon Dolce, nonfat latte with no whipped cream”? I never saw any indication of that if I was. Do people get upset when someone orders a Diet Coke at McDonald’s? Did I make someone feel bad because they were ordering a full-fat item instead of something lower in calories and fat? If so, that’s on them. They – like me – are responsible for what they order. If they want the “real deal”, then they are entitled to go for it. Sometimes I order the regular stuff, too. What anyone else thinks is their problem, not mine.

If anything, people got a bit impatient with me taking so long to order (that’s a lot of verbiage to get out in a single breath!) and then re-confirming that the barista did, indeed, get that it was sugar-free syrup and nonfat and no whip. I’m so fanatical about tracking my intake that I always want to be sure I’m getting the right stuff. Frankly, I think people will be glad that the line moves faster when I’m ordering now.

Secondly, while “skinny” does sometimes indicate a lack of health, it’s still very widely used to describe something that helps people concerned about their weight. There’s been an influx in recent years of books (Skinny Chicks, The Skinny, Skinny Bitch) and terms (Skinny Jeans) that all use the word “skinny” in a positive, drop-a-few-pounds way. I would in no way think of a “skinny” latte as being unhealthy or offensive.

What do you think?

  • Are you offended by the term “skinny” in relation to a latte?
  • If so, why?
  •  What would you recommend as an alternative way to describe these low-cal, low-fat beverages?

Entry filed under: food review, news around the blogosphere, resolutions, Starbucks. Tags: , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. canearl  |  February 15, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    I’m not offended by the term “skinny” at all. In fact- if they had called it a “diet” latte I would have never ordered it because I don’t generally like anything diet. I’m glad that they have a low cal option that tastes great.

  • […] it was to suggest using sugar-free syrup instead of regular syrup.  That’s what I do when I go skinny at Starbucks.  I also season my latte with both cinnamon and […]

  • 3. sandrar  |  September 10, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.


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